Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


It's Been Said Before

By Orin Hargraves

It's Been Said Before "examines why certain phrases become clichés and why they should be avoided -- or why they still have life left in them."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Sounds Fascinating

By J. C. Wells

How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.

Query Details

Query Subject:   Idiom formation via transliteration
Author:   Israel Cohen
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Linguistic Theories

Query:   A Google Scholar search retrieved 2 journal articles about the transliteration of Buddhist Sanskrit words/phrases to Chinese idioms:


My query is: Has anyone else researched or discussed the formation of idioms via transliteration into languages other than Chinese?

I have found these patterns of (English) idiom formation. In essence they involve the transformation of a (usually) foreign homophone into a native homograph.

L1, transliterated > L1 pun, translated > L2...Ln idioms
Job 19:20 BQoSHi (barely) > B3or SHinai >by skin of my teeth

L1, transliterated > L2 idiom [, translated > L3...Ln idioms]
Latin recollectare > Fr cloche/Ger Glock > ring a bell?
Penn Dutch acht(ung) Grund(be aware+reason)>US axe to grind
cf German Beweggrund (motive)
Latin sopor quies > Heb SPoR KeVeS > count sheep! (re sleep)
> modern Hebrew LiSPoR KVaSiM to count sheep (plural)

L1 & transliterated L1, transliterated & translated > L2 idiom
Heb/Yiddish BRaKHa (blessing) + BeReKH (leg) > Break a leg!
cf HatSLakha(success)+BeReKH+BRaKHa >Ger Hals und Beinbruch!

L2 word/phrase, transliterated > L1, translated > L2 idiom
secret > Heb miSGeReT (framework, skeleton) + SoGeR (close)
> skeleton in the closet

The second column of Origen's Hexapla
is the Old Testament in the Hebrew language written with Greek letters. This may have facilitated the formation of Greek idioms whose meaning is that of the Hebrew source. Cf the etymology of ''idiom'' from Greek idioma ''peculiarity, peculiar phraseology,'' from idioumai ''to appropriate to oneself.''
LL Issue: 25.2814
Date posted: 05-Jul-2014